The Indifferent, the Famous, and John of God

29 abr 2019
James Randi performs "spirit" surgery

Well-known and acclaimed internationally, John of God has also been denounced and exposed, both by the international and national media, several times. The supposed healing powers of the self-proclaimed medium attracted famous people and heads of states, and an endless number of ordinary people throughout 40 years of practice in the city of Abadiania, in the state of Goias. There, Joao Faria, who calls himself and certainly believes himself to be "of God," serves in a house that pretty much resembles a hospital.

In this place, the medium performs spiritual surgeries, visible or invisible. In the visible ones, very impressive indeed, he uses a tray of surgical instruments much like what we see in movies and real hospitals to help him make cuts, "extracts tumors," introduce forceps through the patients' nostrils and scalpels directly into their eyes, bringing on reactions of astonishment and admiration in the audience.

Nevertheless, all of these incredible and impressive procedures are, for those who watch them, identical to ordinary circus tricks, some of which are described by the magician Harry Houdini (1874-1926), a notorious quack exposer, almost a hundred years ago in Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.”

In fact, any capable magician can produce them, as has been demonstrated by experts and investigators such as the Americans James Randi (in the photo above) and Joe Nickell, both trained magicians. In Brazil, the Fantastico TV show showed a partially critical view on the subject in 2012.

However, nothing compares to the Australian TV program 60 Minutes, which made a series of programs exposing the less luminous side of the supposed medium. For instance, it showed the enormous market revolving around the activities of John, with the sale of associated products, although the "treatment" itself is free.

Yet, the media, especially the national media, have predominantly portrayed John of God over the decades as a hero, a saint, a teacher, a humble ascetic, devoid of worldly interests. In sum, an enlightened being, for he has cared for the soul of former President Lula, American TV presenter Oprah Winfrey, and several other public figures who have thus lent their credibility (warranted or not) to John of God.

Even when the public learned of John's surprising decision to treat his own cancer with real medicine   rather than to rely on the spirits  , Veja magazine portrayed him as a self-denying spiritual leader who only resorted to traditional medicine because "a barber does not cut his hair."

The journalists, coated by this pearl of immortal wisdom, did not remember that barbers do not cut their hair, but look for other barbers so why did the medium not seek another medium?

Recently, more than 200 women accused João de Deus of sexual abuse during "consultations." According to the reports, abuses have been taking place since 1980. The reported pattern of conduct is consistent. The medium chooses the victim, makes her feel special, as someone chosen to be healed, and takes her to a separate room, where he induces her to engage in sexual acts. The accounts show women of all ages and social classes, confused and perplexed, not quite sure how and why this "pure and holy" man would be doing it.

The combination of uncritical faith and worship makes this kind of nonsense possible. All articles on the scandal so far take extreme care not to question the healing powers of John of God and the faith of his followers. People's faith certainly needs to be respected. But why such caution not to expose along with accusations of improper sexual conduct the fragile and contradictory foundations of the faith specifically placed in this man?

For 40 years, John of God has practiced invasive techniques using surgical instruments, without proper training, license, or degree. No one knows how many infections were onset by his practices, how many sequels they left, and chiefly, how many people abandoned their conventional treatments to receive the treatment provided by the "spiritual doctor."

For four decades, the press, the medical establishment, and Brazilian authorities treated the anomalous situation created by John of God in the city of Abadiânia with complacency in an attitude that went from omission to acquiescence and often to most enthusiastic endorsement. It is our opinion that, by acting in such a way, these institutions have seriously failed the public they should serve.

Undoubtedly, if journalists and authorities had performed a correct, critical, competent, and astonishment-free job, when it was still time, would not countless women have been spared abuses?

Many of the victims who trusted John of God probably did not rely solely on him they also trusted the politicians and celebrities who consulted with the medium, relied on journalists who referred to him as a "simple, Franciscan man," and trusted the authorities that allowed him to keep operating.

In the end, it was up to the victims, the women, who were fragile, traumatized, and frightened, to muster the courage to do the work that so many men, over 40 years in positions of power, did not do.

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